imageWhen I lived in the city I was accustomed to the kaleidoscope of smashed glass caught in the cracks and rough patches of sidewalk and road. Beautiful, but terrifying trash. I’ve stepped on enough broken drinking glass shards to know to keep my feet covered when I stepped outside. The day I spied a man running down my Baltimore street without shoes I looked once to see him, again in unbelief, once more in disbelief and again because why would anyone in their right mind run down these glass glittered streets without proper footwear? But up the street he ran anyway, not stepping gingerly, but in stride and purpose. Open and free. I just thought he and anyone else reckless enough to attempt such a task was crazy. Then I met one.

*     *     *

Do you ever have a word pick you? Some people pick words to arc a season in their life or guide their path for a month or year or more. I’ve never deliberately chosen one, but last October a word chose me. I was running and realized I had my fists balled up as I fought against my body’s longing for repose and the length of the street in stretched in front of me.  Open your hands. Open your hands. Open your hands. I obeyed the directions called to my mind thinking they must have heralded from some how to run article sometime, somewhere.  Relaxing my hands did loosen me up and lent more fluidity in my movement, but lacking muscle memory to keep me that way I realized I was back in bad habit fighting form in no time.  Open. The spoken word and accompanying action repeated through my brain again and again that inky dark before morning’s dawn and so many since whether I am running or not.

I met Catherine in a class last semester. She’s a whirlwind. The kind with more life stories than I can follow when she talks about them. I jest to others that I thought I was intense until I met her.  She  spins more plates that I can keep track of then says it’s keeping her balanced. I don’t doubt it, but I’m awestruck at how full her life is, yet she lives it so open and free.

We played travelling companions this week at a early modern literature conference. Feeling grateful to the friend that encouraged me to get my paper accepted, I happily agreed when she offered to make plans for trip. The encouragement didn’t end there. I listened and let Catherine lead. Hoping to be more open, I willingly let her. The three days of the trip were filled with firsts. We waited for the bus in lieu of a rental car and met an assortment of tripped up and helpful people. We stayed with a stranger she found on Airbnb. When the bus to campus didn’t show, she didn’t panic; rather, she suggested we put out thumbs. We hitchhiked to campus. Twice. We joined a free Krishna dinner on the sidewalk, and ate beans, rice, curried potatoes, and farina sweetened with stewed cinnamon plums. And then at Catherine’s encouragement I never unpacked my running shoes. I ran as barefooted as she regularly does.

It is a strange sensation to expose the skin you usually protect with moisture wicking socks and supportive shoes to the asphalt. I confessed my panic about glass on the street, but Catherine brushed it off, “You don’t run bare-footed in front of a frat house, but  most places you will be fine. Just run light-footed and let your body lead.”  Remembering my goal to be more open to the world. I did it. My feet were alive with feeling. Bumps of rough pebble pavement assaulted my feet when I walked slowly, but running light-footed and free made it easier, and on less rugged stretches- pleasant and fun. The knee injury I’ve been nursing along for months didn’t cry out once. I felt so unprotected and free, but I was okay. I couldn’t believe I was really doing it.

*     *     *

In all those times I’ve been told to open my hands I realized that I was supposed to let go to free myself to catch something new.  After a few months of this thought coming I understood what I had to let go of. My husband and I and our kids are moving to Davis, California from the home we’ve made in Texas. The decision was nothing we had expected or planned for. We are all going to leave behind friends, associations and opportunities we regret (including an unfinished graduate program for me). This is not easy or something we wanted; it is difficult to let go but I’m trying to open my hands to let it all go rather than fighting through this hard thing. I have hope that they will fill with something good. Catherine told me it affirms her faith in God and good people. Being with her was good practice; I’m feeling better already.

I learned something about myself last weekend with thanks to my friend. It may be hard to let go of my protective running shoes, it may be easier to do what you know (to rent a car and stay in a hotel and the like), and ball up your fists to fight through hard things– but something amazing can happen when you let go and open your hands to the world. I met good people that renewed my faith in humanity  that I wouldn’t have encountered being as closed off as I sometimes am.  Muscles that I had never given thought to in my feet and lower legs are aching from new use– but that pain is good. It reminds me that I can open my mind, body and heart, retrain my muscle memory to release myself, to open to something new as I must let go of the old. I have to free myself to catch something new. I’m waiting, looking to the skies, hands open, crying out, Okay, I’m ready. 

What are you doing to open yourself to the world to give and take more freely?What new things are you attempting that challenge you to be more open? 




April 7, 2014


  1. Blue

    April 8, 2014

    I’ve had to really open up and trust the past few months…that the answers and direction I’m receiving is the right path. It’s so much easier in some ways to continue on with what’s familiar, with what you’ve adjusted to. Even when it’s unhealthy, you have coping mechanisms in place that make maintaining status quo easier than allowing yourself to be guided down new paths. So like you, I’m trying to yield my will over and allow life to direct my paths to places that will help me be more submissive to the spirit and what God has in mind for me. Your essay inspires me, Sandra. You have a beautiful way with words. xo

  2. Emily C

    April 8, 2014

    Thank you for this. We are anticipating a move in less than two months and this is so helpful to me today. Blessings.

  3. Jessawhy

    April 8, 2014

    This is a beautiful post. I admire you for so many reasons. Barefoot running for example. When I read about it in Born to Run, I wanted to try it, but was afraid. Good for you!
    And moving. That would be hard. I wish you and your family all of the best.

    I recently started a career after nearly 12 years as a SAHM. It’s very exciting, the job includes lots of travel and networking, but I’m nervous too. I love the idea of being open to new opportunities.
    Thanks for this post.

  4. Catherine

    April 9, 2014

    Written years ago when I was learning about … “Sole Stuff”

    “Everyone else is wearing shoes!”
    “How far do you think she’s going?”
    “Mommy, why is that lady running in the grass with bare feet?”
    “Good luck!”

    This morning I returned to White Rock Lake, my old training ground in East Dallas. The drive from my home in Wylie was only 30 minutes, but I felt like I was crossings over the past 13 months to return to my former identity as an East Dallas runner.

    This time as I drove past Richardson Bike Mart on Garland Road, then turned right at Barbec’s Restaurant, and onto the gravel parking… I wondered if I would make it.

    Last December’s White Rock Marathon was my last time to circle the lake. As I did so I called out to spectators for Advil, dropped for hurried pigeons (yoga stretch), and sprinted to tag the runner wearing a “finish or die trying” shirt. My last marathon hurt… a lot. I had suffered from such severe IT band syndrome that the Doc on Friday told me he doubted I would be able to run the marathon at all Sunday. Although I finished with a PR of 4:15, I was unable to run or even walk for weeks after the race. Under strict orders to stop running for a couple of months and rehab my muscles, I determined to ease back into running with small triathlons and to mindfully keep my muscles balanced.

    Somewhere along the way, I recalled a business card from a race packet in Austin last year that read, “barefoot physical therapist” and featured a photograph of a woman’s bare dirty feet, next to a dogs bare dirty feet. Although initially repulsed by the image, it worked its way through my psyche until I recognize similar tan, sprawling feet at the end of my legs.

    Here I was at the lake again, hoping to revisit the reflection of the rising sun, the trees, the familiar training groups, bikers whizzing past, and a communal sense of fitness that makes me love East Dallas. This time I am barefoot. Something about losing my shoes, has made me challenge each aspect of my running routine. I no longer wear an ipod, earphones, a shirt, a cell phone, a credit card, water or gels. I no longer worry about time or think about pain. I no longer watch each person and imagine their story.

    Barefoot, I focus on the path in front of me, I philosophize about sense, feedback, reflection, relationships. I used to be a mathematician as I ran, splicing the distance into palatable percentages that constantly evolved with my distance. I used music to dull my sense of breath, to mask my pain, and to provide a distraction as I entered “the zone.” Barefoot, I inhabit myself with a full and satisfied sense that I will honor my ability and slowly progress and strengthen.

    Today I arrived at the lake aware that there are no short cuts. The nine-mile loop is a commitment for my bare soles. Barefoot Ken Bob, guru of running barefoot has said “your feet will meet you half way.” Well, this was their chance. I was committed to running the lake and committed to going the pace my feet wanted to; I asked them to keep me going without injury.

    I did it! Judging from my soles, I’m not as flat footed as I thought. They met me half way and we had a great run. This was a new PR – my slowest run to date – and the most rewarding. The 9 miles took me 1:35, about a 10:30 pace. Cheers to bare feet. You should join me!

  5. Catherine

    April 9, 2014

    Sandra, you know I followed you too, right? Sisters take turns hearing seeing and trying. You’re good at that give and take.

  6. Sandra

    April 10, 2014

    Blue- Thank you. I know life has beautiful options available to you- courage and love to you during this transition. I was thinking being open along with one of my other favorite words, choose. Openness doesn’t just come, it must be decided upon. We must actively choose what we will do- to fight against something or fly with it- God wants us to choose and accept responsibility, opportunity and hope in our own lives; but graciously God also offers to walk with us and support us all along the way. I am thankful for that. God doesn’t make it easy, but he does make things possible.

    Emily- I am so glad. May you find what you need in the transitory months ahead.

    Jessawhy- I’m honored and you know I love your bravery, tenacity and passion. Congrats on your new job and the opportunities it offers.

    Catherine- You know I love and admire your stamina and openness- you have them in spades. And yes, I know that you followed me indulged all my food selections- I appreciate your openness there. 🙂 Thank you for listening to me too.

  7. Linda

    April 10, 2014

    A beautiful post, wise and powerful. It’s also a rich metaphor for all the “runs” we face in life. Thanks so much, Sandra. I wonder whether when the scriptures talks about “talk up my cross and follow me” they might also be meaning following Him with our arms stretched wide open, our bodies and spirits vulnerable, as His were on the cross.

  8. Shelah

    April 11, 2014

    My philosophy tends to be “jump in with both feet first, and figure out the consequences later.” It’s landed me a lot of wonderful opportunities, but sometimes being open also gets me in way over my head.

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